The Eichmann trial papers - The Inner Temple Library

Inner Temple
The Eichmann trial papers:
a resonance for our time
July 2015
Based on an article by Master Goodman in the
Inner Temple Library Newsletter Issue 16, April 2009
In late 2007 a large number of tied
bundles of documents were
rediscovered in the basement stacks of
the Library in the Littleton Building. A
first view suggested that they were
transcripts of the Eichmann trial, held
in Jerusalem in 1961.
In May 2008, with the kind assistance
of Michael Simon, a multi-lingual
family practitioner from 4 Paper
Buildings I investigated the find. We
established that the papers do not
contain a transcript of the trial of
Eichmann; rather they represent the
primary evidence used in the trial.
If Reinhard Heydrich was the architect
of the Nazi Final Solution, Karl Adolf
Eichmann was responsible for
Adolf Eichmann
delivering the Holocaust as a matter of
state policy. He personally directed and routed transports from all over
Europe to the camps, visited the Einsatzgruppen at work behind the Russian
front, attended Auschwitz Birkenau, Treblinka, Chelmno and Sobibor to
examine the efficiency of the killing programme, and took day to day control
in Budapest of the dispatch of 400,000 Hungarian Jews to the death camps
in 1944. He was secretary to the Wannsee Conference of January, 1942 which
agreed the logistical and administrative detail of the Final Solution, and was
responsible for the propaganda camp at Theresienstadt.
After the war, Eichmann fled to Argentina. In May 1960, he was abducted by
the Israeli Security Service and brought back to Jerusalem to stand trial for
genocide. His was one of the first internationally televised trials, which lasted
from April until August 1961. Eichmann was sentenced to death by hanging
and executed in May 1962, the only man ever to be judicially executed by the
Israeli state.
What do the papers contain? First there is a series of bound bundles which
contain transcripts of the tape-recorded interviews with Eichmann made
under interrogation by Israel's criminal police department, running to a little
over 3,500 pages. A schedule, in German, lists those documents to which he
was referred under questioning.
Next are a series of folders containing the prosecution’s opening notes or
memoranda to the trial judges outlining the case in respect of each country
under German occupation, then approximately 25 bundles representing
around 1,700 pieces of primary evidence used at the trial. These run to over
5,000 pages of copy documents, affidavits, witness statements from victims,
and from convicted Nazis and former members of the SS. There are in
addition transcripts or extracts of judgments from other Nazi war crimes trials
(particularly that of Hoess, the commandant of Auschwitz). These are in
German, Hebrew, and various east European languages. One selfcontained schedule in Hebrew summarises each item and is very useful. The
documents are in the correct order and virtually all in very good condition.
Curiously, no-one knows how these papers came to be in the Library. The
minutes of the Library Committee between 1962 and 2007 have been
perused, but there is no mention of a gift or loan of these papers. An initial
guess was that the papers might have come to the Inn via Lord Russell of
Liverpool, a member of Inner who, in June 1946, became Deputy Judge
Advocate, British Army of the Rhine, and held that appointment until July
1947, and again from October 1948 to May 1951. He was legal adviser to the
Commander-in-Chief in respect of all trials by British Military Courts of
German war criminals. In May 1951 he returned to the Office of the Judge
Advocate General of the Forces in London and took up the appointment of
Assistant Judge Advocate General, resigning on 8 August 1954.
The British Government
sent no official observer to
the Eichmann trial, but
L o r d R u ss el l a l m o s t
certainly attended. The
foreword of his book, The
Trial of Adolf Eichmann
(1961) refers to the fact that
it preceded publication of
the transcripts, and the
publicity material for
Heinemann, Russell’s
publishers, mentions his
presence at the trial.
Reading the Eichmann
papers is a chilling
experience. They contain a
number of personal items:
his SS staff service record
with photographs, party
membership of 1933, the
Lebenslauf (or “C.V.”) for
Eichmann and his wife, and
an application for a
marriage licence with a
family tree proving full Aryan descent for three generations on both sides.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of pages of orders emanating from
Eichmann’s office, covering deportations, “resettlement”, “actions” and “special
treatment” in the minutest of detail. He issued detailed guidance on the
deportation procedure, specifying collection points, routes, timetables, the
hiring of railway trucks, the amount each deportee could carry, and where he
or she would be relieved of that burden.
Instructions were also issued regarding confiscated property, both before and
after deportation: cash was to be sent to the Reich central bank; watches,
fountain pens, torches, wallets and other personal belongings were to be
repaired and cleaned by camp inmates and then sold cheaply to soldiers in
the front line. Men’s and women’s clothing was to be collected and sent to
Volksdeutsche in the Eastern areas, in addition to blankets, umbrellas, prams
and other useful items. Spectacles went to the Ministry of Health, linen and
tablecloths to the army and furs to RHSA.
Reading these documents one is struck by two things. First, they reinforce the
description, “the banality of evil” given by Hannah Arendt in The Origins of
Totalitarianism (1951). She asserted that the bureaucratisation and
rationalisation of the nation-state made possible a new, industrialised kind of
mass murder. Eichmann was, in her view, a symptom of this “banality” rather
than a prime mover in the Nazi machinery of organised killing.
Second, there may be a real resonance for our time. We have seen over the
last decade a centralisation of governance, and of the police, leading to their
politicisation; a tension between the Executive and the Judiciary over the
exercise of the rule of law; the isolation and vilification of a small minority
group; and an attack of the institution of habeas corpus on the grounds of
state security and the prevention of crime. Euthanasia is once again on the
social and political agenda. The justification “for the public good” is used for
the ever-increasing surveillance of our society, and in particular the control of
young people; and regulation now dominates both the social and even the
domestic sphere. Statutory powers intended to facilitate pursuit of serious
crime and matters of national security are now routinely used by local councils
to spy on citizens suspected of trivial by-law offences. There are over 600
regulatory powers allowing a variety of governmental organisations access to
our homes.
An octogenarian heckler is ejected from a Labour Party Conference
reportedly under the guise of anti-terrorism legislation; demonstrators against
a further runway at Heathrow are detained and harassed by police.
Our ancient liberties under the common law are now measured by reference
to a European convention, that of Human Rights. Once, everything was
permitted unless proscribed; soon, activities will require state permission, if not
licensing. Our political language has long ceased to be that of left or right. The
argument is dominated by the conflict between authoritarians and
Are we gradually laying the ground for a future totalitarianism? If nothing
else Eichmann has taught us that where there is a political will, bureaucrats
will act, irrespective of the end. These papers demonstrate how easy it is to do
so, once the mechanism and powers for bureaucratic management and
intervention have been laid down.
As Lord Russell concludes, writing of Eichmann, “That the head of a small
department felt able to implement Hitler’s criminal plans, without so much as
a protest, is a reminder, never to be forgotten, of the appalling and disastrous
effects of totalitarianism on men’s minds.”
This is an abridged version of an article which originally appeared in the Inner
Temple Yearbook 2008-2009.
The Inn’s Library Committee and Executive Committee later agreed that the
Eichmann papers should be deposited on long term loan with the Wiener
Library (which specialises in material on the Holocaust), where they would be
more readily accessible to researchers.
The present Lord Russell of Liverpool was consulted about the origin of the
papers but had no knowledge of them.
Eichmann image: no copyright. All other images © Inner Temple Library